A NEW scheme to boost populations of barn owls in Teesside has seen its first successful year.

September saw the end of the first year of monitoring by the East Cleveland Barn Owl Nest Box Network.

The Tees Valley Wildlife Trust has been working with landowners, volunteers, and licensed barn owl handlers to boost numbers by placing specially-designed boxes to create new nesting habitat for the birds, whose numbers have been in decline in recent years.

Over the course of this year, working with Colin Gibson and the late Geoff Myers, the trust has been supported by 42 landowners to create a monitoring network of 64 nesting sites for the barn owl, over an area of 125sq km.

Throughout the scheme, 43 new boxes have been erected on trees, poles, barns and other structures using both custom made external nest boxes and internal nest boxes, adapted from tea chests donated to the trust following an appeal earlier this year.

“The results have been better than we could even have hoped for,” said Kate Bartram, the trust’s East Cleveland heritage officer.

“Twenty-six of the boxes have been occupied by breeding barn owls. Another nine boxes were occupied by other birds including tawny owls, jackdaws and stock doves.

“Of the barn owl nests, six failed for different reasons such as desertion, infertile eggs, squirrel predation and bad weather conditions.

“Over 115 eggs were laid and 67 owlets ringed to give better understanding of owl movements.

“I am thrilled with the results of this years monitoring,” said Mr Gibson. “It just shows how readily barn owls will take to artificial nest boxes. Twenty-six breeding pairs in our first year of monitoring has exceeded my expectations by a country mile."

To help people better understand how far owls move, Tees Valley Wildlife Trust is asking the for the public’s help by reporting any dead, ringed barn owls found by the roadside or other places.The rings have a unique number on them which can be traced to where the owls fledged.

“The ringing information is really helpful,” said Ms Bartram. “As well as information on movement, it can also help our understanding of survivability.”

This first year of the project has been funded by National Lottery players through the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Northumbrian Water’s Branch Out Fund.

The scheme is also supported by East Cleveland’s landowners, and has enabled the trust to create the nest box network and get baseline data on barn owls and movement at a landscape scale for the first time.

Monitoring of the nest boxes over the next few years will give the trust new insights into the population dynamics of this popular farmland bird.

The trust has also announced that Tees Valley Community Foundation will be supporting the important hard work of its barn owl volunteers for the next three years.

  • To report any ringed barn owls, enter the details on the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) website and go to the report a ringed bird page via bto.org